Scientists Predict Medical Conditions By Analyzing Facebook Posts

To date, there are more than one billion people estimated to be active on Facebook. The rise of social media has provided a number of benefits, from connecting people to growing businesses. 

And the health community is starting to utilize the platform to improve healthcare. A new study shows Facebook could actually help predict medical conditions of people.

Researchers said that by analyzing personal profiles they were able to determine at least 21 types of conditions, including pregnancy, diabetes and skin disorders. Facebook also guided the team in identifying mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression and psychosis, CNN reported Monday.

"People's personality, mental state, and health behaviors are all reflected in their social media and all have tremendous impact on health," the researchers said in the study that is to be published in the journal PLOS One. 

The findings come from the analysis of nearly 950,000 Facebook status updates from 999 participants. The researchers also reviewed each participant’s electronic medical records and compared it with their social media posts.

They found certain language that may indicate characteristic behavior or symptoms of certain diagnoses. The people who commonly used the words "drink," "drunk" or "bottle" in their Facebook posts were likely experiencing alcohol abuse, the researchers said. 

The team hopes the study could help improve healthcare in the future. Analyzing social media patterns offers a new way to personalize medical services for patients. 

However, the researchers noted predictive words are not necessarily causal mechanisms. They added some challenges may occur in promoting the use of social media to predict medical conditions, such as privacy concerns and data ownership.

Facebook and Privacy

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg previously admitted the social networking company had issues securing personal data of users. One major issue was the Cambridge Analytica scandal and another security breach that revealed private information of at least 50 million users.

The company was also criticized for tracking users to sell targeted advertisements, which provided it $56 billion in 2018. Reports also claimed Facebook used to give companies some access to user information, including friends list and private messages. However, Zuckerberg announced in March that Facebook would now become a "privacy-focused" platform.

keyboard The rise of social media has provided a number of benefits, from connecting people to growing businesses to improving healthcare. Pixabay